Chicago's LSC election: largest, most diverse

“Largest municipal election yields largest number of public officials of color in the US.”

Thanks to Don Moore of Designs for Change for this press release:

6,500 Candidates Set To Run for Chicago’s Local School Councils This Week, After 28 Organizations Won a Two-Week Candidate Recruitment Extension
Chicago School System’s Central Administration Repeatedly Obstructs Recruitment Efforts

CHICAGO, IL (APRIL 15, 2012).  About 6,500 candidates signed up to run in Chicago’s Local School Councils election this week, primarily as a result of an extended candidate recruitment deadline demanded by the 28 organizational members of the Coalition to Strengthen Local School Councils.

Local School Council elections will be held at nearly 540 schools with an LSC, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18 in elementary schools, and from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 19 in high schools. Parents whose child attends a school or community members who live in a school’s attendance area are eligible to vote for parent and community LSC representatives.

This is the largest municipal election in the United States, and chooses the nation’s largest number of elected officials of color.

The number of candidates increased dramatically during spring 2012 from about 2,000 to 6,500, after the Coalition to Strengthen Local School Councils (of which PAA affiliate PURE is a member) demanded that CEO Jean-Claude Brizzard extend the candidate recruitment period for two weeks, which he did.

About Chicago’s Local School Councils

In 540 schools with Local School Councils, the LSC typically has the right to choose the school’s principal for a four-year contract and help develop, approve, and monitor a school improvement plan and school-based budget—as required by a 1988 state law that applies only to Chicago.  (LSC rights to approve their improvement plan and budget are diminished if a school is on probation.)

Local School Councils consist of six parents, two community residents, two teachers, one non-teaching staff member, the principal, and (in high schools) a student.

Research indicates that active cohesive LSCs have helped schools significantly improve student achievement and increase parent and community involvement.

Central Administration Obstructs LSC Election Process

Independent groups seeking to recruit LSC candidates encountered multiple forms of resistance from the school system’s central administration in the run-up to the eleventh LSC election, including problems that they had not experienced in the ten previous LSC elections.  For example:

•  The school system’s Office of LSC Relations did not coordinate meetings and communications with interested independent groups to plan a coherent recruitment and election strategy.
•  While in past elections, the Office of LSC Relations had released a daily computerized tally of the number of candidates for each position by school in the last month of the recruitment period (which allows groups to target their recruitment), the Office of LSC Relations stated that they would release these data only in response to a Freedom of Information Request, to which the school system typically takes at least ten days to respond.  This delay makes the resulting information (which changes day-to-day) useless.

Two days before the original recruitment deadline of March 8, independent groups obtained tallies indicating that only about 2,000 candidates had registered to run for their LSCs.

In response, the Coalition to Strengthen Local School Councils (a broad spectrum of 28 Local School Council, community, parent, school reform, teacher, and principal groups) demanded that Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizzard extend the recruitment period for two weeks, take visible leadership in endorsing Local School Councils and their importance in improving schools, and halt obstruction of the recruitment process, particularly by the school system’s Office of Local School Councils. CEO Brizard subsequently extended the deadline for candidate registration from March 8 to March 23 and interested groups began to receive daily school-by-school candidate tallies.

A few of the 28 organizations supporting the Coalition’s demand for an extension include, for example, Black Star Project, Blocks Together, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, Chicago Teachers Union, Designs for Change, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, North River Commission, Parents United for Responsible Education, PUSH Excel, the West Side and South Side Branches of the NAACP, and Teachers for Social Justice. (A list of all 28 organizations demanding the extension is below.)

In the process of their distributing the resulting school-by-school lists during the recruitment extension period, it became apparent that CPS did not have an accurate list of schools with Local School Councils, because the first lists that were released contained many charter schools and other schools without LSCs, which were listed as schools that needed LSC candidates recruited for them. It took several days of pressure on the Office of LSC Relations for them to generate an accurate list of schools with LSCs. This raises a question as to whether and how effectively the Office of LSC Relations and other CPS staff had been recruiting candidates to that point, when the Office of Local School Councils did not even have an accurate list of schools with LSCs several days after the deadline extension.

Further, three community newspapers (Center Square Journal, Austin Talks, and Welles Park Bulldog) also had trouble obtaining the names and addresses of candidates who had registered to run at specific schools, so that the newspapers could interview them. The Office of LSC Relations told these newspapers that they would have to Freedom of Information requests for this information, which is unprecedented. LSC candidates are candidates for elected public office, and information about them that they file when they register to run (except for their phone number) must be publicly available on request. The public has a right to learn about these candidates through the press.   Candidates are subject to challenge before and after the election takes place.   (Information relevant to public challenges is required as part of the candidate application materials and is supposed to be available for public inspection.)

Ultimately, Center Square Journal filed and pursued a freedom of information request and obtained the attached citywide list of candidates by school and position sought.

See also this article from Center Square Journal about the obstruction of the LSC candidate recruitment process by CPS that Center Square Journal encountered.

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